The Climate Change Deception That None of Us Saw Coming

New York Times infographic detailing climate change in the 1980's
Mobil Oil's behind the scenes analysis of their harmful policies
A forged letter to a member of Congress to sway voting
The ugly truth behind an Exxon-Mobil funded 'scholar'
Timeline of fossil fuel company's awareness of climate change

Despite near unanimous agreement of its danger amongst the scientific community, climate change has continued to be one of the most hotly contested issues of the new millennium. So many members of the American public continue to stand in staunch disbelief of the negative effects of our fossil fuel industry on the environment, maintaining their position even as more and more evidence of our planet’s imminent disaster piles up. An answer to why climate change has been such a tough bargain to sell on public opinion, as well as a way to sway these unshakeable denials, has arrived in a comprehensive report by the aptly named Union of Concerned Scientists. The results are outright shocking, confirming your worst nightmares of behind the scenes corporate deception and once and for all abolishing the notion that climate change is anything but a fallacy.

The report, titled the Climate Deception Dossiers, is comprised of seven separate investigations into the ways in which the largest fossil fuel companies have been outright deceiving the American public on matters regarding climate change. I spoke to Union of Concerned Scientist member Seth Shulman about this startling report, and he walked me through the piles of evidence that ranged from the horrifying to the downright unbelievable. One report shows evidence of coal companies forging letters to members of Congress to sway voting opinion in their favor, another reveals a scientist at the reputable Harvard-Smithsonian Center to be on the payroll of Exxon-Mobil. His years of research and funding were spent on reports "blaming higher carbon emissions on sunspots and not from any man-made behavior," said Shulman.

What is most shocking of all perhaps is not just the campaigns of deception, but the knowledge that fossil fuel companies have known about the harmful effects of climate change as early as 1981, decades before it became a topic of national discussion. Exxon-Mobil, a multiple offender in the dossiers, had made internal reports evaluating their company’s contribution to the rise of greenhouse gases starting in the early 1980’s, and one of the newly published documents shows an internal company memo from 1995 that states their company’s negative effects to environmental health “is well-established and cannot be denied.”

Naturally, it feels a bit soul crushing to know that some of the most powerful corporations in the world have not only known about their wanton destruction of our planet but have successfully deceived the public into thinking otherwise. The impulsive reaction is to lash back out at these companies, to make them pay for the years of lies. But as any average citizen has wondered at one point or another, just how in the hell do you lash back at an omnipotent mega-corporation?

Shulman and I’s conversation quickly turned into gleaning some answers from him about what is being done, and what can be done, to hold these companies accountable for their years of lies. “The bottom line is that we’re using this as a tool, in an immediate sense, to call on all these major companies—Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, etc.– to stop deceiving the public, to stop the campaign of deception that has been exposed in this report. That’s sort of step one, and it’s a really big step.” Since the publication of the dossier two weeks ago, BP and Shell have stepped up to the plate and begun to own up for their shadowy past behavior, with both beginning to sever ties with “groups and trade associations that are actively denying the issue of climate change and trying to mislead the public,” said Shulman. Public disavowal of their connections to agencies of misinformation is the key step he tells me, but far from the most action that needs to be taken.

I ask whether legal avenues are a viable option to take, bringing these companies to trial for some of their actual criminal behavior. Shulman points out a very helpful analogy to be found in our nation’s past with the tobacco industry, a startlingly similar template to guide further action. Despite warnings from the health industry in the mid 1960’s, it took decades for the widespread disavowal of cigarettes, thanks to a similar campaign of misinformation by Big Tobacco. The government eventually brought racketeering charges against the tobacco industry for their efforts in deceiving the public, but it only happened after extreme public engagement. “While there are members of Congress who are confident we could bring similar charges of racketeering to the fossil fuel industry,” Shulman tells me, “we unfortunately just don’t have the time. These things take an inordinate amount of time, and with the current level of carbon emissions, we just don’t have that kind of time.”

On a slightly more upbeat note, I prod Shulman for ways in which we can incite more direct action. “I think the most important thing is to get people to really wake up and realize the extent to which these companies have been working to mislead the public for many, many years, and we need to make them stop doing that. We need to bring public pressure to bear to get them to engage in and become, at least, part of the solution. Or at least not stand in the way of the solution.”

What does this mean for the readers at home? It means sharing this newly-brought-to-light information as much as possible, it means putting hard facts about climate change into the laps of those fed on lies for too long, and it means taking the time to write your congressmen to call for direct action against the companies that have now been proven to have been actively harming you. And most of all, it means stepping up and getting vocal about the deadliest enemy to the longevity of the human race.

Read all of the Climate Deception Dossiers right here and share as much as you can

Visit the Union of Concerned Scientist’s website for more fantastic information right here

Video directed by Lewis Meyer of Legs Media with motion graphics by Rachel Nye Levine

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